Fringe with benefits

Boulder International Fringe Festival looks at the flipside of theater

Krystal Baugher | Boulder Weekly


I have never liked filet mignon. I don’t have much feeling for Armani or Chloe. And I certainly can’t stand Cy Twombly or that dude who covers castles and rivers and whatnot with white sheets.

I believe the only way to drink coffee is black.

Crocs should be banished from the planet. And Fiona Apple should put out a record more than once every 10 years.

I could (if I had the time, energy and column space) go through my entire history of experiences to determine why I feel the way I do about these particular things.

But we each have our own histories and encounters that have, over time, developed our tastes for certain things over others. (That is why some people are perfectly content in Crocs while others cringe at the sight.)

Both the media and our education system do a good job of influencing our opinions. As the saying goes, those in power control the knowledge — this is also true for art.

But when it comes to art, why should a few people get to decide what the majority of people should like? Or even see? What (or who) gives them the authority over taste?

The Boulder International Fringe Festival is about giving up the authority and instead gives independent artists a chance to take risks and get noticed.

This year, from Aug. 17 to Aug. 28, there will be more than 350 un-juried events at 15 venues throughout Boulder and Denver. The first 25 percent of the artists are automatically approved by early-bird registration; the other shows/artists are selected by a lottery — no one auditions, no one specifically decides what goes on.

There is a wide range of acts including music, dance, theater, films, workshops and parties. The Fringe brings artists and visitors from as far away as Ireland and East Prussia and showcases plenty of local talent.

“Art is the framework of society,” says David Ortolano, the festival’s executive producer. “Art, ideally, is a sampling of how we live.”

The first Fringe Festival started right after World War II in Scotland. Artists who were not officially invited to perform in the Edinburgh International Festival came anyway. They performed on stairways, in alleys, on rooftops, in cabs and buses — essentially they crashed the party. A journalist at the time said, “I’m spending more time at the festival fringe than I am at the festival itself.” The name was coined and a movement started. Since 1946, the festival has gotten bigger and spread around the globe.

This year marks the seventh year Boulder has hosted a fringe festival.

“We’ve always had a good turnout, but people here haven’t quite gotten what Fringe is about,” Ortolano says. “These festivals usually take over the city they’re in. People immerse themselves in art for 12 days.

Everything is centered around the notion. Spinoff programs start. Schools get involved. The art scene propagates itself.”

In other words, it becomes the big deal. And it should be the big deal. Fringe offers more to Boulder than your regular art space with kitschy paintings of mountains; artists strive toward connection with audiences on a deeper level.

“As a secular culture, art is all we have; there is no dictated story that binds us together. What we have is Hollywood, theater, performance art, YouTube, flash mobs, the Fringe,” Ortolano says.

Some of the promising upcoming Fringe shows include Kelsie Huff ’s Huffs — last year Huff ’s Bruiser sold out nearly every night, mostly due to its hilarity and Huff ’s ability to be both shocking and relatable at the same time. This year her show is bound to be a hit again.

Same with the woman who brought us Woe to the Conquered, Claire Patton. She is back with Smite Smote Smitten, a technicolor comedy about the righteous and the wicked.

Alison Whittaker goes behind the scenes of our current health care system in Vital Signs, a show about a registered nurse at a major urban hospital. According to the program description, it’s going to be gross, shocking, absurd and heartwarming — imperative descriptive traits for a strong and likeable theater performance.

What we see at Fringe are the stories of human spirit — both triumphs and failures, hardships and happiness that unite us. As audience and artist we are taking part in something vital to our humanity — creation. This creativity helps to reveal our connections to each other, to this planet, irrespective of our individual tastes (even those unfortunate souls walking around in rubber clogs).

[On the Bill: For a complete schedule, visit, or pick up a copy of Boulder Weekly on Aug. 18 for a printed schedule.]